Napier, a coastal city on New Zealand’s North Island, is set amid the renowned wine-producing region of Hawke’s Bay. The Hawke’s Bay region is the country’s fruit bowl, and the surrounding rolling countryside is packed with orchards and vine-draped fields that sum up New Zealand’s gently rural appeal. It’s a great region for a road trip through sleepy backwater villages and hilly farmland, with the jutting peninsula of Cape Kidnappers and its superb gannet colony a definite highlight of a journey here.
Best Time to Visit
Napier is a warm and relatively dry city, with sunshine throughout most of the year. The climate is moderate and an average high of 22°C in the summer and a low of 4.6°C in the winter. Thousands of tourist flock to the city in February every year for the Art Deco weekend that is a celebration of the city heritage and culture. The city is bursting with life at this time of the year, and it is the perfect time to experience the heritage of Napier. During the weekend you can step back in history as the locals dress in 1930 period style and drive along in vintage cars.
Top Places to Visit
1. Art Deco Architecture
Napier’s shattering earthquake of 1931 leveled the center of town, and rebuilding afterwards was largely focused on the Art Deco and Spanish-mission styles, which were then in fashion in the United States. The result is an incredible assemblage of Art Deco architecture (comparable only with the Art Deco District of Miami) that has given Napier the moniker “Art Deco capital of the world.” Much of the design was the work of local architect Louis Hay who infused Maori motifs into many of the building facades to give the architecture a distinctly New Zealand twist. Of particular note among the many Art Deco buildings in town are the Masonic Lodge and the Criterion Hotel. Today, the city’s architecture is its biggest tourist attraction, and a highlight of a stay here is taking one of its Art Deco Walks run by Napier’s Art Deco Trust.
2. National Aquarium of New Zealand
The National Aquarium of New Zealand is home to the country’s most diverse range of sea life. In the Oceanarium, visitors can view the shark species, stingray, and reef fish that call the waters off Hawke’s Bay home, as well as plenty of tropical fish, turtles, and octopi that are found throughout the Pacific. There are also three animal enclosures that allow you to see some of New Zealand’s most famous endemic animals: the nocturnal and flightless kiwi, the tuatara reptile, and the little blue penguin. Kids will enjoy the close-encounters experience in the Penguin Enclosure, which lets them hand-feed these charismatic creatures.
3. Marine Parade
Napier’s seafront promenade of Marine Parade is lined with tall Norfolk Pines and is home to the tranquil Marine Parade Gardens and the Sunken Gardens. There are plenty of monuments and art installations to spot along this stretch, the most famous of which is the bronze Pania of the Reef statue. Mermaid-like Pania is a figure from Maori mythology who was lured away from her lover by the sea people and was unable to return to dry land. Other monuments worth a look include the Spirit of Napier monument, the Tom Parker fountain, and Marine Parade Arch with the ship’s bell from the HMS Veronica.
4. Otatara Pa: A Maori Fortified Village
This 40-hectare pa (Maori fortified village) is one of New Zealand’s most important archaeological sites. Otatara Pa was the largest pa in the Hawke’s Bay region and was home to the chief, Turauwha, who dominated the region. Today, the pa is a historical reserve, and excavation and careful preservation here means that many of the foundations of terraced dwelling sites and food pits can be seen. The hill the pa sits on has excellent panoramas of the surrounding countryside down to Napier.
5. Cape Kidnappers
Just south of Napier, the headland of Cape Kidnappers juts out into the sea and is a viscerally beautiful place of stark, windswept cliffs shooting up from narrow strips of beach. Cape Kidnappers was given its name by Captain Cook in 1769 when the local Maori here, trading with Cook’s ship, kidnapped his Tahitian cabin-boy. Today, this craggy peninsula lays claim to being home to the world’s largest gannet colony with the birds easily seen nesting in huge numbers. Tours by tractor along the beach are easily arranged, or independent travelers can hike along the beach for eight kilometers from the town of Clifton.
6. Te Mata Peak
Beside the town of Havelock North, Te Mata Peak rises 339 meters above the surrounding countryside, allowing sweeping views across the entirety of Hawke’s Bay. Te Mata Peak is significant in Maori folklore and is the setting for the legend of Chief Te Mata O Rongokako, who, to win the hand of his lover, tried to eat his way through the cliffs here. The park area covers 99 hectares with native forest as well as gum trees, eucalyptus, and redwood forest areas. A large network of hiking and mountain biking trails traverse the area up to the summit and make a great place for an afternoon stroll with plenty of scenic viewpoints along the way.